This weekend (Sat., Feb. 4, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC Vegas 68. The main event features a re-do match up between Derrick Lewis and Sergei Spivak, who were supposed to collide back in Nov. 2022 until last-minute illness wounded “The Black Beast.” Originally, this event was scheduled for Seoul, South Korea, and much of the card reflects that. It’s filled with would-be local talent who will instead cross the Pacific Ocean and throw down in “Sin City.”
Let’s take a closer look at the match ups that lead up the to co-main event:
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura vs. Blagoy Ivanov
Best Win for Tybura? Sergey Spivak For Ivanov? Ben Rothwell
Current Streak: Both men won their last fight
X-Factor: Which man holds the wrestling advantage?
How these two match up: This feels like a fight that surely has happened at some point previously.
There are definite similarities between these two European Heavyweights. The duo both prefer to fight in the clinch and cage wrestle more than kickbox, though they’re certainly well-rounded and tough on the feet, too. Tybura brings a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to battle, whereas Ivanov is a combat Sambo world champion. In the cage, however, there approaches tend to be rather similar.
Realistically, I expect the wrestling and grappling to really cancel out here. Both fighters are seemingly adept enough in the clinch to avoid the other’s trips and throws. As such, this becomes a stand up battle in which kickboxing skill and general conditioning are the biggest deciding factors.
On both accounts, I favor Tybura. The Polish athlete has significant edges in speed and reach, which combined with his fast kicks should prove quite an obstacle for the Bulgarian. Tybura’s generally been on more of an upswing as well in terms of overall career, so his momentum helps makes this an easier pick too.
Still ... expect a tiring slog.
Prediction: Tybura via decision
Featherweight: Doo Ho Choi vs. Kyle Nelson
Best Win for Choi? Thiago Tavares For Nelson? Polo Reyes
Current Streak: Choi has lost three straight, while Nelson lost his last two bouts
X-Factor: How much does Choi have left in the tank?
How these two match up: This reads like a brawl.
Back in 2016, Choi was undefeated in the Octagon and looked at as a future contender. Since then, he’s lost three consecutive fights, and his most recent appearance was Dec. 2019! It’s been a helluva slide for the 31-year-old “Korean Superboy,” but this is a definite step back in competition compared to Jeremy Stephens or Charles Jourdain.
To that point, Nelson has lost four of five UFC bouts. He’s got some power in his hands and a jiu-jitsu brown belt, but the Canadian talent definitely slows down pretty significantly in the latter half of fights.
UFC wants a layup for Choi. That’s why this match up was made. Can he perform? That’s real hard to say, seeing as Choi is in the 14th year of his professional career and returning from a long series of layoffs and injuries.
It’s a crapshoot! That said, Choi was clearly the better fighter, and he’s yet to show any quit. Worst case, he can probably win a sloppy brawl late if the early stoppage doesn’t materialize.
Prediction: Choi via knockout
Welterweight: Yusaku Kinoshita vs. Adam Fugitt
Best Win for Kinoshita? Jose Henrique Souza For Fugitt? Solomon Renfro
Current Streak: Kinoshita debuts having won two straight, whereas Fugitt recently lost his UFC debut
X-Factor: UFC jitters
How these two match up: Contender Series pickup vs. short-notice signee.
Kinoshita is just 22 years of age, and he’s finished all six of his professional wins. He’s a striker first and foremost, a crafty Southpaw with major finishing power in his left hand. He’s rangy and likes to fight on the counter, which makes for a fun Welterweight prospect. Conversely, Fugitt is more of a wrestler. He’s comfortable enough throwing hands, but that’s usually a means to an end until he can gain top position and drop ground strikes.
This is an interesting fight to predict. Kinoshita clearly has the higher overall upside as the far younger and more athletic prospect. However, he’s also yet to face a wrestler the quality of Fugitt, so the potential for a frustrating, spoiler-type win for Fugitt certainly exists as well.
It will also be interesting to see how Kinoshita deals with a reach disadvantage.
Ultimately, I’ll trust in Kinoshita to make the necessary adjustments. He moves with real fluidity for his experience level, and he knows how to convert that gift to massive shots landed — shots that should decide the outcome here.
Prediction: Kinoshita via knockout
‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2023: 0-3
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 68 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 1 a.m. ET.
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